Monday, 24 January 2011

Research: Brian Duffy

I'm rapidly running out of time now, so I'm going to have to curtail my natural inclination to go in to too much detail (what, no cries of despair, no pleading with me to reconsider?)

I've been a fan of Brian Duffy for a long time, and had originally planned to do a research post about him, but abandoned it after deciding on my initial theme. Now that I've changed my theme to black and white pictures though, he's suddenly relevant again.

Along with Terence Donovan and David Bailey (the so called terrible trio), Duffy's innovative style of photography redefined the way fashion was shot. That's not to say he was a one trick pony though. As well as his fashion photography, he also dabbled in documentary style street photography, and was in constant demand for his skill at devising advertising shoots. Born in Dublin in 1933, he tried a few different jobs before discovering a passion for photography. In order to hone his skills, he spent several years assisting other photographers, and accepting freelance commissions. In 1957 he was offered a job at British vogue, and quickly established his place in the fashion world. After several years of employment with various magazines, he decided to setup his own studio, as this would allow him to further explore and define his particular style. Having been at the forefront of the industry for almost three decades, he seemed to have become disillusioned with the business, and in 1979 decided to retire from photography. This wouldn't have been too much of a problem, but not satisfied with just retiring, he decided to burn all of his negatives. Luckily a friend came round halfway through and managed to save as many as possible, but Duffy had completely destroyed years of his work, in a single afternoon. In 2007 his son Chris started trying to assemble an archive of his dad's remaining work, and has kindly given me permission to use some of them in this post.

David Bowie/Aladdin Sane, 1973, Photo Duffy © Duffy Archive

This is not only one of Duffy's most famous photographs, but also one of the most famous images of the 70's. One of three album covers Duffy shot for David Bowie. This portrait was shot in 1973 as a cover for Bowie's Aladdin Sane album.

Like a lot of Duffy's studio celebrity photographs, it's incredibly minimalist. As well as being an album cover, this portrait was a good way of introducing Bowie's new persona to the world. By having the subject shot against a pure white background, and placing him in the exact centre of the frame, they become the only focal point for the portrait. This allows the person buying the album to get a good look at the new character. The white background and pale skin of Bowie, also help to make the colours in the hair and lightning bolt really stand out, creating a real visual impact.

The lighting Duffy's used has a duel purpose. Obviously the main lighting has to ensure that the overall exposure is well balanced, and that the features are clearly defined. The spot of intense light at the bottom of the frame though was deliberately setup to produce an area of blank space. This allowed the album title to be superimposed  over the top, without affecting the stark composition of the photograph.

Jean Shrimpton, 1964, Photo Duffy © Duffy Archive

Of all Duffy's photos this is one of my favourites, and not just because it's got Jean Shrimpton in...maybe!

It was part of a fashion shoot for British Vogue in 1964. A magazine both Duffy and Shrimpton had long connections with.

Shrimpton was one of the most famous faces of the sixties, and also involved with Duffy's friend David Bailey. As such, she worked with Duffy on quite a few occasions. This gave me quite a selection to choose from, but as I said, I've always really liked this picture. Being a bloke, the obvious reasons for this are nice legs, and an ample supply of heaving bosom, but there are other reasons...give me a minute and I'll think of some. Err...texture! Yes, texture. Duffy's use of a light coloured backdrop, and no set dressing means that the patterns and textures of her dress are in complete contrast to the rest of the picture, and as you'd expect from a fashion shoot, this draws the eye straight to it.

Shrimpton's pose is a strange one, with her leg slightly raised. and her arms splayed out behind her. I'm not sure what they were going for, but hey it works for me!

Sammy Davis Jr & May Britt, 1960, Photo Duffy © Duffy Archive

This is yet another example of Duffy working with the icons of his age. The portrait was taken in 1960, and is of the recently married Sammy Davis Jr, and May Britt.

There are two things I like about this particular picture. I don't know if it was left in for the final print, but I like the fact the black outline, and serial number have been kept. I think when framed this would make a great example of a frame within a frame. It reminds me of Dan Winters work today...or should that be winters work reminds me of Duffy? I also like the way Duffy's managed to capture an intimate moment despite it being a formal studio session. The different way they're dressed is another interesting aspect of the picture. Davis Jr's formal suit, a perfect counterpoint to Britt's casual clothes.

The last two pictures are examples of the kind of look I was trying to achieve with my own pictures:

Shutter: 1/60, Aperture: F/8.0, ISO: 100

Although I don't feel I really captured the essence of his style (though I did my best), hopefully I'll get another chance at a later date.

Benson & Hedges Advert, 1977, Photo Duffy © Duffy Archive

I've included this last picture as an example of his advertising work. In the late seventies Duffy was commissioned to produce various advertising campaigns for several different companies. The most famous of which was for Benson & Hedges. The campaign consisted of four Photographs, each of which was slightly surreal. They all had packets of cigarettes placed in surreal situations, like hatching from an egg, or replacing the stone on a ring. The picture above is the one I find most interesting though.

By placing the cigarettes out of context, Duffy has transformed an ordinary situation, through the introduction of an extraordinary element. By angling the camera so that the lines of the ceiling and wall converge, Duffy naturally leads the eye towards the birdcage. He also makes the cage and cigarette packet the main focal point through the use of a limited palette of muted colours.

Not having photoshop in those days, he'd have had to produce this using practical tricks. I'd assume the room was setup with the birdcage in it, and a second cage was placed out of shot, with the silhouette cast using additional lighting.

Ok, so that wasn't quite as short as I was hoping, but there's only one research post left, so I'll try a little harder in that one:)

Thanks again to Chris Duffy for permission to use the Photographs.

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